Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grace Myu: Malaysia Beauty, Fashion, Lifestyle Blogger: VS Sassoon iPink Instant Studio Professional Hair ...

Grace Myu: Malaysia Beauty, Fashion, Lifestyle Blogger: VS Sassoon iPink Instant Studio Professional Hair ...: When I was younger, my mom was always spotted with hair rollers on (imagine that vintage looking image of stay-at-home-moms) and she ma...

Grace Myu: Malaysia Beauty, Fashion, Lifestyle Blogger: VS Sassoon iPink Instant Studio Professional Hair ...

Grace Myu: Malaysia Beauty, Fashion, Lifestyle Blogger: VS Sassoon iPink Instant Studio Professional Hair ...: When I was younger, my mom was always spotted with hair rollers on (imagine that vintage looking image of stay-at-home-moms) and she ma...

Review provides further insight into link between hormone therapy and breast cancer



A review of data from two Women's Health Initiative clinical trials reveals the varying effects of menopausal hormone therapy on the incidence of breast cancer over time. The results are published in the journal JAMA Oncology.


The review revealed that use of estrogen plus progestin was associated with a steady increase in breast cancer incidence, while estrogen alone was found to reduce breast cancer risk.

Hormone replacement therapy was once considered the standard treatment for women suffering menopausal symptoms. It involves the use of medications that contain female hormones - commonlyestrogen or a combination of estrogen and progestin (a form of progesterone) - to replace those lost followingmenopause.

But in 2002 came the results of a clinical trial as part of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), which found a link between use of combined hormone therapy and increased risk of breast cancer - a finding that was supported by another WHI trial a year later.

According to Dr. Rowan T. Chlebowski, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA, and colleagues, the results of these trials led to a significant reduction in the use of hormone therapy.

However, the authors point out that while combined hormone therapy was associated with increased breast cancer risk in these trials, the use of estrogen alone was not. In fact, estrogen use was associated with reduced breast cancer incidence and deaths.

"Such results raised questions regarding the short- and long-term postintervention effects of these two regimens on breast cancer," say the authors.

As such, Dr. Chlebowski and colleagues conducted a longer-term review of the two WHI trials with the aim of going a better understanding of how the use of hormone therapy influences the risk of breast cancer.
Hormone therapy with estrogen alone reduced breast cancer risk

One trial involved 16,608 women with an intact uterus who were randomized to receive combined hormone therapy - estrogen plus progestin - or a placebo for an average of 5.6 years.

The other trial involved 10,739 women who had undergone a hysterectomy who were randomly assigned to receive estrogen alone or a placebo for an average of 7.2 years.

The review revealed that use of estrogen plus progestin throughout the entire intervention period was associated with a steady increase in breast cancer incidence.

However, around 2.75 years after combined hormone therapy began - deemed the early postintervention period - the researchers identified a sharp reduction in breast cancer incidence among women whose therapy had been discontinued.

"This likely represents a therapeutic influence of change in hormone environment on preclinical breast cancers similar to that seen with adjuvant aromatase inhibitor or tamoxifen use in early-stage breast cancer," the authors note.

An increased risk of breast cancer remained for years after treatment ceased, however.

In the estrogen-only trial, the researchers identified an overall significant reduction in breast cancer incidence throughout the entire intervention period. This risk was lowest in the early postintervention period, the team found, though they note it increased over time.

"Nonetheless," say the authors, "use of estrogen alone reduced breast cancer risk throughout the cumulative follow-up."

The researchers say the early reduction in breast cancer risk with estrogen therapy alone may reflect a treatment effect on preclinical breast cancers. "Estrogen receptor-positive cancers respond to sudden lowering of estrogen exposure with tumor reduction," they note.

Commenting on their findings, the team says:


"With longer follow-up of the two WHI hormone therapy trials, a complex pattern of changing year-to-year influences on breast cancer was observed.

The ongoing influences on breast cancer after stopping hormone therapy in the WHI trials require recalibration of breast cancer risk and benefit calculation for both regimens, with greater adverse influence for estrogen and progestin use and somewhat greater benefit for use of estrogen alone."
Review offers 'compelling new evidence' of progesterone's role in breast cancer

In an editorial linked to the study, Rama Khoka, PhD, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues say this latest review of the WHI trials reveals "compelling new evidence" for the significant role progesterone plays in breast cancer, noting that it has "traditionally taken a backseat to estrogen."

"Although the WHI trials relate to the menopausal setting, lessons learned from them continue to provide additional value in appreciating a potential role of progesterone even in premenopausal breast cancer," they add.

"Furthermore, investigation into the cellular and mechanistic underpinnings of progesterone's impact on the normal breast and breast cancer may provide new opportunities for knowledge translation and therapeutic intervention in breast cancer."



Coffee 'could halve breast cancer recurrence' in tamoxifen-treated patients

A new study led by researchers from Lund University in Sweden claims women diagnosed with breast cancer who are taking the drug tamoxifen could halve their risk of recurrence by drinking coffee.

The findings - published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research - build on those from a previous study conducted by Lund University researchers in 2013, in which the team found a link between coffeeconsumption and reduced breast cancer recurrence in 300 women who used tamoxifen.

In that study, however, the researchers were unable to explain why coffee appeared to protect against the return of breast cancer in these women.

"Now, unlike in the previous study, we have combined information about the patients' lifestyle and clinical data from 1,090 breast cancer patients with studies on breast cancer cells," say researchers Ann Rosendahl and Helena Jernström, both of Lund University and Skåne University Hospital, also in Sweden.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US, affecting around 1 in 8 women in their lifetime.

Hormone therapy is a standard treatment for patients with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, most commonly administered after a patient undergoes surgery for the disease. Tamoxifen is one drug used for hormone therapy. It works by preventing estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells, which stops them growing and dividing.

Of the 1,090 women with breast cancer included in the study, around 500 were treated with tamoxifen. The women's coffee consumption was assessed and allocated to one of three categories: low consumption (less than one cup a day), moderate consumption (two to four cups and day) and high consumption (five or more cups a day).

The researchers found that among the women who were treated with tamoxifen, those who had moderate or high coffee consumption had half the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence than those who had low coffee consumption or did not drink the beverage at all.

What is more, the team found that tamoxifen-treated women who consumed at least two cups of coffee a day had smaller tumors and a lower proportion of hormone-dependent tumors than women who consumed less coffee.
Caffeine, caffeic acid 'reduces cell division and increases cell death'

Next, the researchers analyzed the effects of two substances present in coffee - caffeine and caffeic acid - on breast cancer cells.

The team found that both of these compounds - particularly caffeine - reduced cell division and increased cell death among both ER+ and estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancer cells. When tamoxifen was applied, the effect was even stronger.

"This shows that these substances have an effect on the breast cancer cells and turn off signaling pathways that the cancer cells require to grow," say Rosendahl and Jernström.

The researchers add:


"The clinical and experimental findings demonstrate various anticancer properties of caffeine and caffeic acid against both ER+ and ER- breast cancer that may sensitize tumor cells to tamoxifen and reduce breast cancer growth."

The team stresses, however, that breast cancer patients should not swap their medication for coffee. "But if you like coffee and are also taking tamoxifen," add Rosendahl and Jernström, "there is no reason to stop drinking it. Just two cups a day is sufficient to make a difference."

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming just one cup of coffee a day could significantly reduce the risk of liver cancer, while another study found consuming five cups a day could reduce the risk of heart attack.


Coffee 'could halve breast cancer recurrence' in tamoxifen-treated patients

A new study led by researchers from Lund University in Sweden claims women diagnosed with breast cancer who are taking the drug tamoxifen could halve their risk of recurrence by drinking coffee.

The findings - published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research - build on those from a previous study conducted by Lund University researchers in 2013, in which the team found a link between coffeeconsumption and reduced breast cancer recurrence in 300 women who used tamoxifen.

In that study, however, the researchers were unable to explain why coffee appeared to protect against the return of breast cancer in these women.

"Now, unlike in the previous study, we have combined information about the patients' lifestyle and clinical data from 1,090 breast cancer patients with studies on breast cancer cells," say researchers Ann Rosendahl and Helena Jernström, both of Lund University and Skåne University Hospital, also in Sweden.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US, affecting around 1 in 8 women in their lifetime.

Hormone therapy is a standard treatment for patients with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, most commonly administered after a patient undergoes surgery for the disease. Tamoxifen is one drug used for hormone therapy. It works by preventing estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells, which stops them growing and dividing.

Of the 1,090 women with breast cancer included in the study, around 500 were treated with tamoxifen. The women's coffee consumption was assessed and allocated to one of three categories: low consumption (less than one cup a day), moderate consumption (two to four cups and day) and high consumption (five or more cups a day).

The researchers found that among the women who were treated with tamoxifen, those who had moderate or high coffee consumption had half the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence than those who had low coffee consumption or did not drink the beverage at all.

What is more, the team found that tamoxifen-treated women who consumed at least two cups of coffee a day had smaller tumors and a lower proportion of hormone-dependent tumors than women who consumed less coffee.
Caffeine, caffeic acid 'reduces cell division and increases cell death'

Next, the researchers analyzed the effects of two substances present in coffee - caffeine and caffeic acid - on breast cancer cells.

The team found that both of these compounds - particularly caffeine - reduced cell division and increased cell death among both ER+ and estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancer cells. When tamoxifen was applied, the effect was even stronger.

"This shows that these substances have an effect on the breast cancer cells and turn off signaling pathways that the cancer cells require to grow," say Rosendahl and Jernström.

The researchers add:


"The clinical and experimental findings demonstrate various anticancer properties of caffeine and caffeic acid against both ER+ and ER- breast cancer that may sensitize tumor cells to tamoxifen and reduce breast cancer growth."

The team stresses, however, that breast cancer patients should not swap their medication for coffee. "But if you like coffee and are also taking tamoxifen," add Rosendahl and Jernström, "there is no reason to stop drinking it. Just two cups a day is sufficient to make a difference."

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming just one cup of coffee a day could significantly reduce the risk of liver cancer, while another study found consuming five cups a day could reduce the risk of heart attack.


World First Remote Heart Surgery Using Robotic Arm

A pioneering world first robotics system operation is to be conducted at Glenfield Hospital Leicester thanks to expertise at the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester.

Dr André Ng, Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester and Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist, Glenfield Hospital, University Hospitals of Leicester, is the first person in the world to carry out the operation remotely on patients using this system.

He will use the Catheter Robotics Remote Catheter Manipulation System for the first time in a heart rhythm treatment procedure.

The system is novel because it allows a doctor to carry out a common heart treatment procedure remotely using a robotic arm.

These procedures involve inserting thin wires, called catheters, into blood vessels at the top of the groin and advanced into the heart chambers. Electrodes on the catheters record and stimulate different regions of the heart to help the doctor identify the cause of the heart rhythm problem which usually involves an abnormality in the electrical wiring system of the heart. Once this area is identified, one of the catheters will be placed at the location to ablate or "burn" the tissue to cure the problem. Catheter ablation has been developed and used over the past 2 decades effectively in many patients suffering palpitations due to heart rhythm disturbances.

Dr Ng said: "The new Robotic procedure is an important step forward because, while some procedures are straightforward, others can take several hours. Because X-rays are used to allow the doctor to monitor what is going on inside the patient, it means that doctors standing close to the patient wear radiation shields such as lead aprons which are burdensome. Protracted procedures can lead to clinician fatigue and high cumulative radiation exposure.

"The benefit of the Robotics system to the patient is that movement of the catheter could be done with great precision. It is anticipated that further developments of the system may allow complex procedures to be made more streamlined. On the other hand, benefits to the doctor are that heavy lead aprons would not be necessary as he / she will be controlling the movements of the catheter using the Remote Controller at a distance from the patient outside the radiation area and that he / she can be sitting closer to the monitors displaying electrical signals and x-ray images as opposed to standing at some distance across the room from them which is current practice."

Dr Ng and his team's international standing and leading position in the management of heart rhythm disorders are reflected in the invitation to be the first to apply this new Robotics System in clinical procedures which also affirms the world-class research and pioneering work at the University of Leicester.

The Remote Catheter Manipulation System (RCMS, Catheter Robotics Inc., New Jersey) is a new system and Dr André Ng, who has extensive experience in EPS procedures, has been selected to apply the system in human studies for the first time in the world. Two other remote navigation systems are commercially available but one uses a huge magnetic field to control a magnetic tip catheter whilst the other uses a large deflectable sheath to move the catheter. The RCMS has the benefit of using standard EPS catheters which can be dismounted and remounted onto the system with ease. The technology has obtained CE mark through rigorous bench safety testing and pre-clinical studies and has now arrived at a stage where it can be applied to clinical procedures.

Dr Ng is an expert in the management of heart rhythm disturbances especially in catheter ablation and the use of mapping systems in such procedures. The Department of Cardiology at Glenfield Hospital is one of the largest Electrophysiology Centres in the UK performing over 600 EPS procedures every year. Dr Ng has a distinguished research profile in investigations into cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmia mechanisms, leading both non-clinical and clinical teams of talented researchers. At the cutting edge of scientific research and development, the innovative work in his group has been acknowledged with many accolades including Young Investigator and Da Vinci Awards. He is also Director of pan-European training programmes on advanced three-dimensional mapping systems and arrhythmia ablation

World First Remote Heart Surgery Using Robotic Arm

A pioneering world first robotics system operation is to be conducted at Glenfield Hospital Leicester thanks to expertise at the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester.

Dr André Ng, Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester and Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist, Glenfield Hospital, University Hospitals of Leicester, is the first person in the world to carry out the operation remotely on patients using this system.

He will use the Catheter Robotics Remote Catheter Manipulation System for the first time in a heart rhythm treatment procedure.

The system is novel because it allows a doctor to carry out a common heart treatment procedure remotely using a robotic arm.

These procedures involve inserting thin wires, called catheters, into blood vessels at the top of the groin and advanced into the heart chambers. Electrodes on the catheters record and stimulate different regions of the heart to help the doctor identify the cause of the heart rhythm problem which usually involves an abnormality in the electrical wiring system of the heart. Once this area is identified, one of the catheters will be placed at the location to ablate or "burn" the tissue to cure the problem. Catheter ablation has been developed and used over the past 2 decades effectively in many patients suffering palpitations due to heart rhythm disturbances.

Dr Ng said: "The new Robotic procedure is an important step forward because, while some procedures are straightforward, others can take several hours. Because X-rays are used to allow the doctor to monitor what is going on inside the patient, it means that doctors standing close to the patient wear radiation shields such as lead aprons which are burdensome. Protracted procedures can lead to clinician fatigue and high cumulative radiation exposure.

"The benefit of the Robotics system to the patient is that movement of the catheter could be done with great precision. It is anticipated that further developments of the system may allow complex procedures to be made more streamlined. On the other hand, benefits to the doctor are that heavy lead aprons would not be necessary as he / she will be controlling the movements of the catheter using the Remote Controller at a distance from the patient outside the radiation area and that he / she can be sitting closer to the monitors displaying electrical signals and x-ray images as opposed to standing at some distance across the room from them which is current practice."

Dr Ng and his team's international standing and leading position in the management of heart rhythm disorders are reflected in the invitation to be the first to apply this new Robotics System in clinical procedures which also affirms the world-class research and pioneering work at the University of Leicester.

The Remote Catheter Manipulation System (RCMS, Catheter Robotics Inc., New Jersey) is a new system and Dr André Ng, who has extensive experience in EPS procedures, has been selected to apply the system in human studies for the first time in the world. Two other remote navigation systems are commercially available but one uses a huge magnetic field to control a magnetic tip catheter whilst the other uses a large deflectable sheath to move the catheter. The RCMS has the benefit of using standard EPS catheters which can be dismounted and remounted onto the system with ease. The technology has obtained CE mark through rigorous bench safety testing and pre-clinical studies and has now arrived at a stage where it can be applied to clinical procedures.

Dr Ng is an expert in the management of heart rhythm disturbances especially in catheter ablation and the use of mapping systems in such procedures. The Department of Cardiology at Glenfield Hospital is one of the largest Electrophysiology Centres in the UK performing over 600 EPS procedures every year. Dr Ng has a distinguished research profile in investigations into cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmia mechanisms, leading both non-clinical and clinical teams of talented researchers. At the cutting edge of scientific research and development, the innovative work in his group has been acknowledged with many accolades including Young Investigator and Da Vinci Awards. He is also Director of pan-European training programmes on advanced three-dimensional mapping systems and arrhythmia ablation

Robots taking over to help medical research



It has been a long and stealthy takeover, but robots now dominate many leading bioscience laboratories, doing in just hours what once took days or weeks. Now the convergence of automation with nanotechnologies, biomedics and advanced algorithms promises to take robotization of medical research much further.

In May of this year, Ross King, professor of machine intelligence at the UK's University of Manchester, traveled east to talk to students at the University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo, China. His paper "Robot scientists: Automating biology and chemistry" was a vindication of theories he and colleagues first proposed almost a decade ago.

In a 2004 letter to the journal Nature, they asked whether it might be possible to automate the actual "discovery" process of observation, deduction and conclusion. This would use a physically implemented robotic system that applied techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out cycles of scientific experimentation.
Meet Adam and Eve, robot scientists

In China, as he had earlier at Brunel University in London, Prof. King named the two "robot scientists" Adam and Eve, constructed at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales. These robots form hypotheses, select efficient experiments to discriminate between them, execute the experiments using laboratory automation equipment, and then analyze the results.

Both Adam and Eve have made actual discoveries.

Adam was developed to investigate the functional genomics of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and the robot succeeded in autonomously identifying the genes that encode locally "orphan" enzymes in yeast.

Prof. Ross King at the controls for Adam the robot, Aberystwyth University

In biblical fashion, Adam was followed by Eve using similar techniques to create a machine tasked toward automation and integration of drug discovery: screening, hit conformation, and quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) development. Eve uses novel synthetic biology screens that combine the advantages of computational, target-based, and cell-based assays.

Prof. Ross King says:


"Our focus has been on neglected tropical disease, and using Eve, we have discovered lead compounds for malaria, Chagas, African sleeping sickness and other conditions."


Humble origins

Analytical robots like Adam, Eve or the more advanced products now being developed at centers of excellence - such as at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg, Germany - are a far cry from the robotic systems that first entered the lab some three decades ago.

The history of a leading company in the field - Hamilton Robotics - demonstrates the progression:
From precision syringes in the 1940s
Through the first semi-automated diluter in 1970
To the first fully automated workstation for sample preparation in 1980.

Such workstations, which mechanically handle samples under full computer control, meet the core dictionary definition of a robot as "a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically." Their actual mechanical or physical "work" component also satisfies Karel Čapek's original "forced labor" definition in his 1920 playR.U.R.. This is the play that introduced the word "robot" to the world.
Robots at work

Liquid handling is one of the four core applications for robotics in the laboratory. The others are:

Microplate handling: using robots to move plates around a workcell, between stacks and other devices (liquid handlers, readers, incubators, and so on). Advanced microplate robots integrate with third-party instruments to create work cells that automate applications and protocols to almost any level of complexity.

Automated biological research systems: robots provide automated handling and reading for various aspects of biological and biochemical research, ranging from flow cytometers to specific molecular biology applications such as PCR preparation and purification, colony picking or cell culture development.

Drug discovery screening: the most recent mainstream robotics application allows researchers to run a wide range of cell-based, receptor-based and enzyme-based assays typically used in high throughput screening (HTS).
Do robots offer an advantage?

The laboratory advantages of using robotics seem obvious, starting with the ergonomic benefits of automating tasks that would be tedious, repetitive, injurious or even hazardous for a human.

A robot makes no distinction between the backbreaking low rack a few centimeters off the floor and the one up high, for which a human would need to stand on a chair. Robots can also safely handle toxins, biohazards or operate in sealed or climate-controlled areas that we would find unbearable.

Laboratories originally embraced robotics because it seemed to offer an escape from the "quantity or quality" dilemma - the constant need to trade off speed for accuracy.

By contrast, it seemed robots could perform infinitely repeated operations to a supreme degree of precision that never varied and was infinitely controllable.

However, in practice, and particularly with high throughput screening, some limitations began to emerge. These included:
Long design and implementation time
Protracted transfer from manual to automated methods
Unstable robotic operation, and
Limited error recovery abilities.

Furthermore, the need to reduce steps in robotic processes tended to encourage the use of less accurate homogenous assays over the heterogenous ones that most companies would prefer.
Scaling up

Early 21st century adoption of Allegro and other technologies based on assembly-line techniques overcame many of these problems by passing microplates down a line to consecutive processing modules, each performing just one step of the assay. Speed could be multiplied into the process by making each step bigger, with the 96-well microplate giving way to 384 and now 1,536-well plates.

The new capability of robots to screen such enormous plates unsupervised paved the way for the quantitative high-throughput screening (qHTS) paradigm that can test each library compound at multiple concentrations.

Maximum efficiency and miniaturization gave qHTS the theoretical capacity to carry out cell-based and biochemical assays across libraries of more than 100,000 compounds, testing between 700,000 and 2 million sample wells within a few hours.

However, few companies actually need to screen that many compounds in-house each day, with the associated costs of consumables such as assay reagents, cell cultures, microplates, and pipet tips, as well as the cost of data handling and analysis time.

When you add in the investment overheads for associated infrastructure, robotics can seem like a rich kid's toy.
Robots for hire

During the first decade of the 21st century, growing numbers of contract companies doing high-throughput screening (HTS) offered assay development and screening, data analysis, and other library support.

The use of such contract robotics labs became a lot more popular after they stopped demanding royalty payments on any discovery. Such labs trade on the ability to offer ultra-fast turnaround times, running 24/7 on high-capacity HTS robotic workstations.

Some pharma and biotech companies began to outsource primary screening, keeping the higher-value, more proprietary secondary screening in-house, to enable higher hit rates for their teams. However, even these approaches are becoming redundant with new technology.
Rifle versus shotgun approach

Essentially, high-throughput screening is the shotgun approach to research - using robotics to throw many thousands of chemical compounds against a target pathogen to see if its cell growth accelerates, stops, or is eliminated. The capacity is awesome, but the costs are high and the unit-to-success ratio is low.

A more sophisticated robotics-enabled paradigm is high-content screening (HCS) - a "rifle" approach that applies molecular specificity based on fluorescence and takes advantage of more sophisticated reagent classes.

High-content screening has the ability to multiplex, along with image analysis coupled to data management, data mining, and data visualization. All these help researchers focus on biological and genomic information and make far more targeted decisions on which assays to run.

Latest technology takes this targeting still further. Hudson Robotics recently announced what it terms high-efficiency screening (HES) for small molecules and antibodies.

High-efficiency screening uses a proprietary algorithm to compile a shortlist of library samples that will be screened. This is then passed on to a robotic workstation where the molecules are cherry-picked and screened in the appropriate assay.

Any molecules found to be active are used to enhance the model and the process is repeated until the user has both a list of active molecules, as well as the final model that can be used to search additional compound collections and guide synthesis of optimized analogs.

In preliminary testing against known compound databases, Hudson says its high-efficiency screening consistently identified the majority of known inhibitors of ten different biological targets after screening under 10% of a library containing some 80,000 diverse molecules.
Future robot trends

Three decades in from the first laboratory use of robotics, it seems clear that the technology is still in its infancy. Robots may seem pervasive in today's biomedical research, but they have a long way to evolve.

For one thing, robots cannot easily coexist with humans, needing to work in safely enclosed areas. The Fraunhofer Institute has been studying this aspect and developed LISA, a prototype mobile lab assistant with touch sensitive "skin" and heat sensors to stop her bumping into humans and vice versa.

Meet LISA. She's the one on the left...

But even LISA is likely to look as clunky as the Wright Flyer once biomedics, 3D printing and nanotechnologies really come into play. A glimpse of the possibilities is offered by the robotic inchworm pioneered by Columbia University.

Biobots like these, or the DNA spiders developed at New York University and the University of Michigan are little more than fascinating, if rather scary, toys at the moment. But they point to a future where robotics moves beyond the research lab into the operating room - or even down into the molecular realm.


Robots taking over to help medical research



It has been a long and stealthy takeover, but robots now dominate many leading bioscience laboratories, doing in just hours what once took days or weeks. Now the convergence of automation with nanotechnologies, biomedics and advanced algorithms promises to take robotization of medical research much further.

In May of this year, Ross King, professor of machine intelligence at the UK's University of Manchester, traveled east to talk to students at the University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo, China. His paper "Robot scientists: Automating biology and chemistry" was a vindication of theories he and colleagues first proposed almost a decade ago.

In a 2004 letter to the journal Nature, they asked whether it might be possible to automate the actual "discovery" process of observation, deduction and conclusion. This would use a physically implemented robotic system that applied techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out cycles of scientific experimentation.
Meet Adam and Eve, robot scientists

In China, as he had earlier at Brunel University in London, Prof. King named the two "robot scientists" Adam and Eve, constructed at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales. These robots form hypotheses, select efficient experiments to discriminate between them, execute the experiments using laboratory automation equipment, and then analyze the results.

Both Adam and Eve have made actual discoveries.

Adam was developed to investigate the functional genomics of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and the robot succeeded in autonomously identifying the genes that encode locally "orphan" enzymes in yeast.

Prof. Ross King at the controls for Adam the robot, Aberystwyth University

In biblical fashion, Adam was followed by Eve using similar techniques to create a machine tasked toward automation and integration of drug discovery: screening, hit conformation, and quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) development. Eve uses novel synthetic biology screens that combine the advantages of computational, target-based, and cell-based assays.

Prof. Ross King says:


"Our focus has been on neglected tropical disease, and using Eve, we have discovered lead compounds for malaria, Chagas, African sleeping sickness and other conditions."


Humble origins

Analytical robots like Adam, Eve or the more advanced products now being developed at centers of excellence - such as at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg, Germany - are a far cry from the robotic systems that first entered the lab some three decades ago.

The history of a leading company in the field - Hamilton Robotics - demonstrates the progression:
From precision syringes in the 1940s
Through the first semi-automated diluter in 1970
To the first fully automated workstation for sample preparation in 1980.

Such workstations, which mechanically handle samples under full computer control, meet the core dictionary definition of a robot as "a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically." Their actual mechanical or physical "work" component also satisfies Karel Čapek's original "forced labor" definition in his 1920 playR.U.R.. This is the play that introduced the word "robot" to the world.
Robots at work

Liquid handling is one of the four core applications for robotics in the laboratory. The others are:

Microplate handling: using robots to move plates around a workcell, between stacks and other devices (liquid handlers, readers, incubators, and so on). Advanced microplate robots integrate with third-party instruments to create work cells that automate applications and protocols to almost any level of complexity.

Automated biological research systems: robots provide automated handling and reading for various aspects of biological and biochemical research, ranging from flow cytometers to specific molecular biology applications such as PCR preparation and purification, colony picking or cell culture development.

Drug discovery screening: the most recent mainstream robotics application allows researchers to run a wide range of cell-based, receptor-based and enzyme-based assays typically used in high throughput screening (HTS).
Do robots offer an advantage?

The laboratory advantages of using robotics seem obvious, starting with the ergonomic benefits of automating tasks that would be tedious, repetitive, injurious or even hazardous for a human.

A robot makes no distinction between the backbreaking low rack a few centimeters off the floor and the one up high, for which a human would need to stand on a chair. Robots can also safely handle toxins, biohazards or operate in sealed or climate-controlled areas that we would find unbearable.

Laboratories originally embraced robotics because it seemed to offer an escape from the "quantity or quality" dilemma - the constant need to trade off speed for accuracy.

By contrast, it seemed robots could perform infinitely repeated operations to a supreme degree of precision that never varied and was infinitely controllable.

However, in practice, and particularly with high throughput screening, some limitations began to emerge. These included:
Long design and implementation time
Protracted transfer from manual to automated methods
Unstable robotic operation, and
Limited error recovery abilities.

Furthermore, the need to reduce steps in robotic processes tended to encourage the use of less accurate homogenous assays over the heterogenous ones that most companies would prefer.
Scaling up

Early 21st century adoption of Allegro and other technologies based on assembly-line techniques overcame many of these problems by passing microplates down a line to consecutive processing modules, each performing just one step of the assay. Speed could be multiplied into the process by making each step bigger, with the 96-well microplate giving way to 384 and now 1,536-well plates.

The new capability of robots to screen such enormous plates unsupervised paved the way for the quantitative high-throughput screening (qHTS) paradigm that can test each library compound at multiple concentrations.

Maximum efficiency and miniaturization gave qHTS the theoretical capacity to carry out cell-based and biochemical assays across libraries of more than 100,000 compounds, testing between 700,000 and 2 million sample wells within a few hours.

However, few companies actually need to screen that many compounds in-house each day, with the associated costs of consumables such as assay reagents, cell cultures, microplates, and pipet tips, as well as the cost of data handling and analysis time.

When you add in the investment overheads for associated infrastructure, robotics can seem like a rich kid's toy.
Robots for hire

During the first decade of the 21st century, growing numbers of contract companies doing high-throughput screening (HTS) offered assay development and screening, data analysis, and other library support.

The use of such contract robotics labs became a lot more popular after they stopped demanding royalty payments on any discovery. Such labs trade on the ability to offer ultra-fast turnaround times, running 24/7 on high-capacity HTS robotic workstations.

Some pharma and biotech companies began to outsource primary screening, keeping the higher-value, more proprietary secondary screening in-house, to enable higher hit rates for their teams. However, even these approaches are becoming redundant with new technology.
Rifle versus shotgun approach

Essentially, high-throughput screening is the shotgun approach to research - using robotics to throw many thousands of chemical compounds against a target pathogen to see if its cell growth accelerates, stops, or is eliminated. The capacity is awesome, but the costs are high and the unit-to-success ratio is low.

A more sophisticated robotics-enabled paradigm is high-content screening (HCS) - a "rifle" approach that applies molecular specificity based on fluorescence and takes advantage of more sophisticated reagent classes.

High-content screening has the ability to multiplex, along with image analysis coupled to data management, data mining, and data visualization. All these help researchers focus on biological and genomic information and make far more targeted decisions on which assays to run.

Latest technology takes this targeting still further. Hudson Robotics recently announced what it terms high-efficiency screening (HES) for small molecules and antibodies.

High-efficiency screening uses a proprietary algorithm to compile a shortlist of library samples that will be screened. This is then passed on to a robotic workstation where the molecules are cherry-picked and screened in the appropriate assay.

Any molecules found to be active are used to enhance the model and the process is repeated until the user has both a list of active molecules, as well as the final model that can be used to search additional compound collections and guide synthesis of optimized analogs.

In preliminary testing against known compound databases, Hudson says its high-efficiency screening consistently identified the majority of known inhibitors of ten different biological targets after screening under 10% of a library containing some 80,000 diverse molecules.
Future robot trends

Three decades in from the first laboratory use of robotics, it seems clear that the technology is still in its infancy. Robots may seem pervasive in today's biomedical research, but they have a long way to evolve.

For one thing, robots cannot easily coexist with humans, needing to work in safely enclosed areas. The Fraunhofer Institute has been studying this aspect and developed LISA, a prototype mobile lab assistant with touch sensitive "skin" and heat sensors to stop her bumping into humans and vice versa.

Meet LISA. She's the one on the left...

But even LISA is likely to look as clunky as the Wright Flyer once biomedics, 3D printing and nanotechnologies really come into play. A glimpse of the possibilities is offered by the robotic inchworm pioneered by Columbia University.

Biobots like these, or the DNA spiders developed at New York University and the University of Michigan are little more than fascinating, if rather scary, toys at the moment. But they point to a future where robotics moves beyond the research lab into the operating room - or even down into the molecular realm.


What are the adult health consequences of childhood bullying?


Still considered a rite of passage by some, research is now attempting to understand why victims of childhood bullying are at risk of poorer outcomes in adulthood, not only for psychological health, but also physical health, cognitive functioning and quality of life.

Though there is no universal definition of childhood bullying, the term is often used to describe when a child repeatedly and deliberately says or does things that causes distress to another child, or when a child attempts to force another child to do something against their will by using threats, violence or intimidation.

The US Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) quote studies that show the most common types of bullying are verbal and social:

Research shows that persistent bullying can cause depression and anxiety and contribute to suicidal behavior.
Name calling - 44.2% of cases
Teasing - 43.3%
Spreading rumors or lies - 36.3%
Pushing or shoving - 32.4%
Hitting, slapping or kicking - 29.2%
Leaving out - 28.5%
Threatening - 27.4%
Stealing belongings - 27.3%
Sexual comments or gestures - 23.7%
Email or blogging - 9.9%

The health impact of bullying on children is complex. Research shows that persistent bullying can cause depression and anxiety and contribute to feelings of suicidal behavior.

The DHHS, however, says that media reports often "oversimplify" the relationship between suicide and bullying. Most young people who are bullied do not become suicidal, they state, and most young people who die by suicide have multiple risk factors, beyond bullying alone.

As well as the psychological impact of bullying, though, studies have shown that children who are bullied may also be prone to physical illness, not only during the period in which the bullying took place, but in later life.

For instance, recently Medical News Today reported on a study that found children who are bullied between the ages of 8 and 10 are more likely to experience sleepwalking, night terrors or nightmares at the age of 12.
Victims of bullying have 'poorer health, lower income, lower quality of life' as adults

But other research shows that the long-term health effects of bullying on the victim are potentially much more far-reaching and serious.


Fast facts about bullying
Over 77% of American students have been bullied verbally, mentally and physically
About 85% of incidents receive no kind of intervention, so it is common for bullying to be ignored
In surveys quoted by the DHHS, approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others.

A 2014 study from researchers at King's College London in the UK found that the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident up to 40 years later.

The study examined data from the British National Child Development Study, which includes information from all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during 1 week in 1958. In total, 7,771 children from that study - whose parents provided information on their child's exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11 - were followed until the age of 50.

Similar to modern rates in both the UK and US, 28% of children in the study had been bullied occasionally, and 15% had been bullied frequently.

The researchers found that, at age 50, participants who had been bullied when they were children were more likely to be in poorer physical and psychological health and have worse cognitive functioning than people who had not been bullied.

Victims of bullying were also found to be more likely to be unemployed, earn less and have lower educational levels than people who had not been bullied. They were also less likely to be in a relationship or have good social support.

People who had been bullied were more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction than their peers who had not been bullied.

Even when factors such as childhood IQ, emotional and behavioral problems, parents' socioeconomic status and low parental involvement were taken into account, the association remained between bullying and negative social, physical and mental health outcomes.

"Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly 4 decades later," said lead author Dr. Ryu Takizawa, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. "The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood."

"We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up," added co-author Prof. Louise Arseneault. She says that while programs to stop bullying are important, teachers, parents and policymakers need to focus efforts on early intervention to prevent problems caused by bullying persisting into adolescence and adulthood.
How does bullying in childhood affect physical health in adulthood?

Prof. Arseneault has also written in depth on another 2014 study into the long-term health effects of bullying, conducted by a team from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.

Some experts think that bullying results in a kind of "toxic stress" that affects children's physiological responses, possibly explaining why some victims of bullying go on to develop health problems.

That study investigated the hypothesis that bullying victimization is a form of "toxic stress." Proponents of this theory suggest that this toxic stress affects children's physiological responses, which may explain why many - otherwise healthy - victims of bullying go on to develop health problems.

One mechanism that may drive this psychological and physical relationship is the inflammatory response, which occurs when the body is fighting an infection, reacting to an injury or responding to a chronic health problem.

The Duke team assessed the extent of this response in victims of bullying by measuring levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). High levels of CRP occur during the inflammatory response.

Previously, studies have shown that people who were abused by an adult in their childhood display elevated levels of CRP. Prof. Arseneault says this suggests that the body is reacting to toxic stress in the same way as when it is attempting to fight an infection.

The Duke team analyzed data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study which measured CRP levels in 1,420 children aged 9-16 who had been victims of bullying, as well as bullies and "bully-victims" - children who are victims of bullying and who also bully others.

The researchers found that children who had been involved in bullying multiple times - whether as victims, bullies or bully-victims - had higher levels of CRP than those who were not exposed to bullying.

The team then looked at the participants' CRP measurements as they entered adulthood. The findings were similar - people who had been repeatedly bullied during childhood displayed the highest levels of CRP.

However, in a finding that surprised the researchers, participants who bullied others were found to now have the lowest levels of CRP out of all groups studied - including those who had not been exposed to bullying.

For both the childhood and early-adulthood CRP measurements, the researchers took into account factors such as maltreatment, family dysfunction, anxiety disorders, prior CRP levels and variables associated with CRP, but the associations remained.

Prof. Arseneault comments that previous research along these lines has demonstrated that bullying can influence physiological responses to stress, including altered levels of cortisol, the hormone that is released in the body when under stress. One study involving pairs of identical twins - where one twin had been bullied and the other had not - found that the bullied twins demonstrated a "blunted" level of cortisol response.

Medical News Today spoke to lead author of the study, William E. Copeland, assistant professor at the Center for Developmental Epidemiology at Duke, who confirmed that the elevated CRP levels suggest one mechanism responsible for translating the act of bullying into potentially long-term physical health problems:


"Bullying and the continued threat of being bullying can have physiological consequences. There is evidence that over time this experience can dysregulate biological stress response systems. In our work, victims have higher levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein up to a decade after their bullying experience. Over time, the wear and tear of these physiological changes can limit the individual's ability to respond to new challenges and put them at increased risk for physical illnesses."
Victims, bullies and bully-victims - how do their outcomes compare?

In 2013, Prof. Copeland also co-authored another analysis of data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, looking into the long-term health consequences of bullying that - as wth the King's College London study - found that victims of bullying have a higher risk of poor health, lower socioeconomic status and problems with forming social relationships as adults.

"Bully-victims" were found to be six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood than those who had not been involved in bullying.

This study also looked at the victims, bullies and bully-victim groups. However, in this study, the bully-victims were found to be the most vulnerable group. Subjects in this group were found to be six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood than those who had not been involved in bullying.

"Not all victims are created equally," Dr. Copeland says of the study's findings. "Victims that attempt to fight back and hurt others tend to be impulsive, easily provoked, have low self-esteem and are often unpopular with their peers. Bully-victims are also more likely to come from dysfunctional families and to have been maltreated by family members."

"As such," he continues, "these children have been exposed to high levels of adversity and lack the skills, temperament and social support to cope effectively. This puts them at profound risk for long-term problems."

The 1,420 participants were interviewed at ages 9, 11 or 13, and then followed up at ages 19, 21 or 24-26 years. Nearly a quarter of the children (23.6%) reported having been bullied, with 7.9% saying they had been bullies, and 6.1% reporting that they had been bully-victims.

While both victims and bully-victims were found to be at risk of poorer health, finances and social relationships as adults, participants who reported being bullies had no association with poorer outcomes in adulthood.

However, Dr. Copeland told us that:


"It is important to be clear here that bullies do not get off scot-free. Pure bullies do have worse outcomes in adulthood but those poor outcomes tend to be due to their preexisting behavior problems and family adversities rather than being a bully per se. For victims, in contrast, the experience of being a victim itself is associated with worse outcomes."

Dr. Copeland considers that the most effective prevention programs involve parent meetings, firm disciplinary methods and strong supervision.

"Once a child has been bullied, it is critical for parents and teachers to be supportive and to ensure that the bullying does not continue," he emphasizes. "Too often, bullying is not taken seriously and is treated like a normal rite of passage."

Though evidence is mounting for physical health problems in adulthood that are associated with childhood bullying, experts say it is the psychological consequences that remain the most concerning, and which are preventable.

Victims of bullying are at increased risk for a range of anxiety disorders, says Dr. Copeland, while bully-victims are at risk for depression and suicide.

"This is tragic because we have effective, tested treatments for all of those problems," he says. "The problem is that very few people with such mental health problems get the help they need."




What are the adult health consequences of childhood bullying?


Still considered a rite of passage by some, research is now attempting to understand why victims of childhood bullying are at risk of poorer outcomes in adulthood, not only for psychological health, but also physical health, cognitive functioning and quality of life.

Though there is no universal definition of childhood bullying, the term is often used to describe when a child repeatedly and deliberately says or does things that causes distress to another child, or when a child attempts to force another child to do something against their will by using threats, violence or intimidation.

The US Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) quote studies that show the most common types of bullying are verbal and social:

Research shows that persistent bullying can cause depression and anxiety and contribute to suicidal behavior.
Name calling - 44.2% of cases
Teasing - 43.3%
Spreading rumors or lies - 36.3%
Pushing or shoving - 32.4%
Hitting, slapping or kicking - 29.2%
Leaving out - 28.5%
Threatening - 27.4%
Stealing belongings - 27.3%
Sexual comments or gestures - 23.7%
Email or blogging - 9.9%

The health impact of bullying on children is complex. Research shows that persistent bullying can cause depression and anxiety and contribute to feelings of suicidal behavior.

The DHHS, however, says that media reports often "oversimplify" the relationship between suicide and bullying. Most young people who are bullied do not become suicidal, they state, and most young people who die by suicide have multiple risk factors, beyond bullying alone.

As well as the psychological impact of bullying, though, studies have shown that children who are bullied may also be prone to physical illness, not only during the period in which the bullying took place, but in later life.

For instance, recently Medical News Today reported on a study that found children who are bullied between the ages of 8 and 10 are more likely to experience sleepwalking, night terrors or nightmares at the age of 12.
Victims of bullying have 'poorer health, lower income, lower quality of life' as adults

But other research shows that the long-term health effects of bullying on the victim are potentially much more far-reaching and serious.


Fast facts about bullying
Over 77% of American students have been bullied verbally, mentally and physically
About 85% of incidents receive no kind of intervention, so it is common for bullying to be ignored
In surveys quoted by the DHHS, approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others.

A 2014 study from researchers at King's College London in the UK found that the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident up to 40 years later.

The study examined data from the British National Child Development Study, which includes information from all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during 1 week in 1958. In total, 7,771 children from that study - whose parents provided information on their child's exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11 - were followed until the age of 50.

Similar to modern rates in both the UK and US, 28% of children in the study had been bullied occasionally, and 15% had been bullied frequently.

The researchers found that, at age 50, participants who had been bullied when they were children were more likely to be in poorer physical and psychological health and have worse cognitive functioning than people who had not been bullied.

Victims of bullying were also found to be more likely to be unemployed, earn less and have lower educational levels than people who had not been bullied. They were also less likely to be in a relationship or have good social support.

People who had been bullied were more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction than their peers who had not been bullied.

Even when factors such as childhood IQ, emotional and behavioral problems, parents' socioeconomic status and low parental involvement were taken into account, the association remained between bullying and negative social, physical and mental health outcomes.

"Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly 4 decades later," said lead author Dr. Ryu Takizawa, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. "The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood."

"We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up," added co-author Prof. Louise Arseneault. She says that while programs to stop bullying are important, teachers, parents and policymakers need to focus efforts on early intervention to prevent problems caused by bullying persisting into adolescence and adulthood.
How does bullying in childhood affect physical health in adulthood?

Prof. Arseneault has also written in depth on another 2014 study into the long-term health effects of bullying, conducted by a team from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.

Some experts think that bullying results in a kind of "toxic stress" that affects children's physiological responses, possibly explaining why some victims of bullying go on to develop health problems.

That study investigated the hypothesis that bullying victimization is a form of "toxic stress." Proponents of this theory suggest that this toxic stress affects children's physiological responses, which may explain why many - otherwise healthy - victims of bullying go on to develop health problems.

One mechanism that may drive this psychological and physical relationship is the inflammatory response, which occurs when the body is fighting an infection, reacting to an injury or responding to a chronic health problem.

The Duke team assessed the extent of this response in victims of bullying by measuring levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). High levels of CRP occur during the inflammatory response.

Previously, studies have shown that people who were abused by an adult in their childhood display elevated levels of CRP. Prof. Arseneault says this suggests that the body is reacting to toxic stress in the same way as when it is attempting to fight an infection.

The Duke team analyzed data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study which measured CRP levels in 1,420 children aged 9-16 who had been victims of bullying, as well as bullies and "bully-victims" - children who are victims of bullying and who also bully others.

The researchers found that children who had been involved in bullying multiple times - whether as victims, bullies or bully-victims - had higher levels of CRP than those who were not exposed to bullying.

The team then looked at the participants' CRP measurements as they entered adulthood. The findings were similar - people who had been repeatedly bullied during childhood displayed the highest levels of CRP.

However, in a finding that surprised the researchers, participants who bullied others were found to now have the lowest levels of CRP out of all groups studied - including those who had not been exposed to bullying.

For both the childhood and early-adulthood CRP measurements, the researchers took into account factors such as maltreatment, family dysfunction, anxiety disorders, prior CRP levels and variables associated with CRP, but the associations remained.

Prof. Arseneault comments that previous research along these lines has demonstrated that bullying can influence physiological responses to stress, including altered levels of cortisol, the hormone that is released in the body when under stress. One study involving pairs of identical twins - where one twin had been bullied and the other had not - found that the bullied twins demonstrated a "blunted" level of cortisol response.

Medical News Today spoke to lead author of the study, William E. Copeland, assistant professor at the Center for Developmental Epidemiology at Duke, who confirmed that the elevated CRP levels suggest one mechanism responsible for translating the act of bullying into potentially long-term physical health problems:


"Bullying and the continued threat of being bullying can have physiological consequences. There is evidence that over time this experience can dysregulate biological stress response systems. In our work, victims have higher levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein up to a decade after their bullying experience. Over time, the wear and tear of these physiological changes can limit the individual's ability to respond to new challenges and put them at increased risk for physical illnesses."
Victims, bullies and bully-victims - how do their outcomes compare?

In 2013, Prof. Copeland also co-authored another analysis of data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, looking into the long-term health consequences of bullying that - as wth the King's College London study - found that victims of bullying have a higher risk of poor health, lower socioeconomic status and problems with forming social relationships as adults.

"Bully-victims" were found to be six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood than those who had not been involved in bullying.

This study also looked at the victims, bullies and bully-victim groups. However, in this study, the bully-victims were found to be the most vulnerable group. Subjects in this group were found to be six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood than those who had not been involved in bullying.

"Not all victims are created equally," Dr. Copeland says of the study's findings. "Victims that attempt to fight back and hurt others tend to be impulsive, easily provoked, have low self-esteem and are often unpopular with their peers. Bully-victims are also more likely to come from dysfunctional families and to have been maltreated by family members."

"As such," he continues, "these children have been exposed to high levels of adversity and lack the skills, temperament and social support to cope effectively. This puts them at profound risk for long-term problems."

The 1,420 participants were interviewed at ages 9, 11 or 13, and then followed up at ages 19, 21 or 24-26 years. Nearly a quarter of the children (23.6%) reported having been bullied, with 7.9% saying they had been bullies, and 6.1% reporting that they had been bully-victims.

While both victims and bully-victims were found to be at risk of poorer health, finances and social relationships as adults, participants who reported being bullies had no association with poorer outcomes in adulthood.

However, Dr. Copeland told us that:


"It is important to be clear here that bullies do not get off scot-free. Pure bullies do have worse outcomes in adulthood but those poor outcomes tend to be due to their preexisting behavior problems and family adversities rather than being a bully per se. For victims, in contrast, the experience of being a victim itself is associated with worse outcomes."

Dr. Copeland considers that the most effective prevention programs involve parent meetings, firm disciplinary methods and strong supervision.

"Once a child has been bullied, it is critical for parents and teachers to be supportive and to ensure that the bullying does not continue," he emphasizes. "Too often, bullying is not taken seriously and is treated like a normal rite of passage."

Though evidence is mounting for physical health problems in adulthood that are associated with childhood bullying, experts say it is the psychological consequences that remain the most concerning, and which are preventable.

Victims of bullying are at increased risk for a range of anxiety disorders, says Dr. Copeland, while bully-victims are at risk for depression and suicide.

"This is tragic because we have effective, tested treatments for all of those problems," he says. "The problem is that very few people with such mental health problems get the help they need."




By delving into the inner workings of synapses, the junctions between brain cells, scientists have mapped how a protein called Arc helps regulate their activity to translate learning into long-term memory.



By delving into the inner workings of synapses, the junctions between brain cells, scientists have mapped how a protein called Arc helps regulate their activity to translate learning into long-term memory.Steve Finkbeiner, a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues, believe their discovery also offers a deeper understanding of what goes on at the molecular level when this activity is disrupted, with implications for Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders.

They write about their findings in a paper published online in Nature Neuroscience at the weekend.

Finkbeiner, who led the research at Gladstone Institutes, a neurological disease research center affiliated to UCSF, says in a statement:"Scientists knew that Arc was involved in long-term memory, because mice lacking the Arc protein could learn new tasks, but failed to remember them the next day."
Synapses

Synapses are highly specialized junctions that process and relay signals between neurons or brain cells. Although the synapses formed during our early brain development form the majority of those we shall ever have, they can be formed, broken and strengthened throughout the rest of our lives. The more active a synapse is, the stronger it gets: this is essential to making new memories.
But if synapses become over-active, they can over-stimulate neurons, which results in epileptic seizures, so somehow, the brain keeps synapse activity in check to stop this happening.
Homeostatic Scaling Stops Synapses Getting Hyperactive

One way the brain stops synapses getting too excited is a recently discovered process called "homeostatic scaling". The neuroscientists who discovered this process found it strikes a balance between synapse-strengthening and keeping synapse excitation in check.

But exactly how neurons strike this balance was somewhat of a mystery: although researchers suspected it had something to with the Arc protein.

"Because initial observations showed Arc accumulating at the synapses during learning, researchers thought that Arc's presence at these synapses was driving the formation of long-lasting memories," says Finkbeiner, although he and his team had other ideas.
Lab Studies Reveal Three Regions Control Arc's Behavior

So they set out to study the behavior of Arc in the lab: first in animals and then in culture.
They were surprised to discover that while Arc accumulates at the synapses when individual neurons are stimulated during learning, soon afterwards, most of the protein gets shuttled into the nucleus.

Lead author Erica Korb, says when they looked more closely, they saw how three regions in the protein were controlling its activity. One region exports the protein from the nucleus, another transports it into the nucleus, and the third keeps it there.
"The presence of this complex and tightly regulated system is strong evidence that this process is biologically important," she adds.
Arc As Master Regulator of Homeostatic Scaling

The team believes their experiments show Arc is a master regulator of homeostatic scaling.

Genes have to be switched on and off at precise times to produce the proteins that neurons use to form memories.


The team found Arc controls this activity, which is required for homeostatic scaling, from inside the nucleus of the neuron.

The process strengthens the synapses, allowing formation of long-term memory, without letting them become too excited.
Findings Could Be Important for a Number of Neurological Diseases

Finkbeiner says their finding could be important for a number of neurological diseases. Not just because it clarifies the role of Arc in the formation of long-term memory, but also because it offers "new insight into the homeostatic scaling process itself - disruptions in which have already been implicated in a whole host of neurological diseases".

For example in Alzheimer's disease, scientists have discovered that the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, has much lower levels of Arc than normal.

"It's possible that disruptions to the homeostatic scaling process may contribute to the learning and memory deficits seen in Alzheimer's," suggests Finkbeiner.

Disruption to Arc production and transport could also be a factor in autism. A common cause of autism and mental retardation is the genetic disorder Fragile X, which has a direct impact on how neurons produce Arc.

Korb says they hope further investigations of Arc and its effect on health and disease will offer even deeper understanding of these and other neurological disorders, plus lay the groundwork for new treatments.

Funds from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging and the Keck Foundation, plus a Ruth L. Kirschstein Fellowship, helped finance the study.

In another recently published study, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles suggest that healthy habits are linked to reduced memory loss.

While in another intriguing piece of research, scientists discovered that clenching your right hand may help create a stronger memory of an event or action, and clenching your left hand may help you recall the memory later.

By delving into the inner workings of synapses, the junctions between brain cells, scientists have mapped how a protein called Arc helps regulate their activity to translate learning into long-term memory.



By delving into the inner workings of synapses, the junctions between brain cells, scientists have mapped how a protein called Arc helps regulate their activity to translate learning into long-term memory.Steve Finkbeiner, a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues, believe their discovery also offers a deeper understanding of what goes on at the molecular level when this activity is disrupted, with implications for Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders.

They write about their findings in a paper published online in Nature Neuroscience at the weekend.

Finkbeiner, who led the research at Gladstone Institutes, a neurological disease research center affiliated to UCSF, says in a statement:"Scientists knew that Arc was involved in long-term memory, because mice lacking the Arc protein could learn new tasks, but failed to remember them the next day."
Synapses

Synapses are highly specialized junctions that process and relay signals between neurons or brain cells. Although the synapses formed during our early brain development form the majority of those we shall ever have, they can be formed, broken and strengthened throughout the rest of our lives. The more active a synapse is, the stronger it gets: this is essential to making new memories.
But if synapses become over-active, they can over-stimulate neurons, which results in epileptic seizures, so somehow, the brain keeps synapse activity in check to stop this happening.
Homeostatic Scaling Stops Synapses Getting Hyperactive

One way the brain stops synapses getting too excited is a recently discovered process called "homeostatic scaling". The neuroscientists who discovered this process found it strikes a balance between synapse-strengthening and keeping synapse excitation in check.

But exactly how neurons strike this balance was somewhat of a mystery: although researchers suspected it had something to with the Arc protein.

"Because initial observations showed Arc accumulating at the synapses during learning, researchers thought that Arc's presence at these synapses was driving the formation of long-lasting memories," says Finkbeiner, although he and his team had other ideas.
Lab Studies Reveal Three Regions Control Arc's Behavior

So they set out to study the behavior of Arc in the lab: first in animals and then in culture.
They were surprised to discover that while Arc accumulates at the synapses when individual neurons are stimulated during learning, soon afterwards, most of the protein gets shuttled into the nucleus.

Lead author Erica Korb, says when they looked more closely, they saw how three regions in the protein were controlling its activity. One region exports the protein from the nucleus, another transports it into the nucleus, and the third keeps it there.
"The presence of this complex and tightly regulated system is strong evidence that this process is biologically important," she adds.
Arc As Master Regulator of Homeostatic Scaling

The team believes their experiments show Arc is a master regulator of homeostatic scaling.

Genes have to be switched on and off at precise times to produce the proteins that neurons use to form memories.


The team found Arc controls this activity, which is required for homeostatic scaling, from inside the nucleus of the neuron.

The process strengthens the synapses, allowing formation of long-term memory, without letting them become too excited.
Findings Could Be Important for a Number of Neurological Diseases

Finkbeiner says their finding could be important for a number of neurological diseases. Not just because it clarifies the role of Arc in the formation of long-term memory, but also because it offers "new insight into the homeostatic scaling process itself - disruptions in which have already been implicated in a whole host of neurological diseases".

For example in Alzheimer's disease, scientists have discovered that the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, has much lower levels of Arc than normal.

"It's possible that disruptions to the homeostatic scaling process may contribute to the learning and memory deficits seen in Alzheimer's," suggests Finkbeiner.

Disruption to Arc production and transport could also be a factor in autism. A common cause of autism and mental retardation is the genetic disorder Fragile X, which has a direct impact on how neurons produce Arc.

Korb says they hope further investigations of Arc and its effect on health and disease will offer even deeper understanding of these and other neurological disorders, plus lay the groundwork for new treatments.

Funds from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging and the Keck Foundation, plus a Ruth L. Kirschstein Fellowship, helped finance the study.

In another recently published study, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles suggest that healthy habits are linked to reduced memory loss.

While in another intriguing piece of research, scientists discovered that clenching your right hand may help create a stronger memory of an event or action, and clenching your left hand may help you recall the memory later.

Adolescent drinking has long-term impact on memory and learning skills







The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, examines how exposure to alcohol during adolescence can affect the growth of a brain that has yet to develop fully, leading to abnormalities that can influence behavior in adulthood.


"In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s," says lead author Mary-Louise Risher, a postdoctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

While adolescence is a crucial period in terms of cognitive, emotional and social maturation, it also happens to be a time when alcohol consumption frequently begins and continues at high levels.

"It's important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions," Risher states.


Although it is widely acknowledged that adolescents respond differently to adults concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on learning and motor functioning, the study authors state that the long-term consequences of repeated alcohol exposure in adolescence have yet to be thoroughly examined.

For the study, the researchers periodically exposed young rats to levels of alcohol during their adolescence that would lead to impairment but not sedation in humans for a period of 16 days. Following this, the rats received no further alcohol, allowing them to mature into adulthood over 24-29 days.

Previously, the researchers had demonstrated animals exposed to alcohol during adolescence would grow up to be less adept at memory tasks than animals that were not exposed to alcohol. However, they did not know how the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and learning, was affected.
Hyperactive LTP and seemingly immature dendritic spines

In the new study, the researchers measured a cellular mechanism known as long-term potentiation (LTP) in the hippocampus. LTP is the mechanism by which the brain synapses strengthen as they are repeatedly used to learn new things or recollect memories.

Vigorous synaptic activity is best for efficient learning and, as a result, LTP is typically highest in younger people who have to acquire large amounts of new memory when approaching adulthood.

The researchers predicted they would find lower levels of LTP in the adult rats who had been exposed to alcohol during adolescence. However, what they found was the complete opposite.


Senior author Scott Swartzwelder, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke and Senior Research Career Scientist at the Durham VA Medical Center, explains the finding:

"At first blush, you would think the animals would be smarter. But that's the opposite of what we found. And it actually does make sense, because if you produce too much LTP in one of these circuits, there is a period of time where you can't produce any more."

Consequently, an animal producing too much LTP will eventually stop learning. "For learning to be efficient, your brain needs a delicate balance of excitation and inhibition - too much in either direction and the circuits do not work optimally," states Prof. Swartzwelder.

A structural change in the nerve cells of the hippocampus was observed alongside the hyperactive LTP. The dendritic spines, vital for cell-to-cell communication, appeared lanky and spindly, as though they were immature. Mature spines are shorter and look similar to mushrooms.

"Something happens during adolescent alcohol exposure that changes the way the hippocampus and other regions of the brain function and how the cells actually look - both the LTP and the dendritic spines have an immature appearance in adulthood," reports Prof. Swartzwelder.

According to Risher, the immature quality of these brain cells could be associated with behavioral immaturity. "It's quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on," she adds. "That's something we are eager to explore in ongoing studies."


In addition to this, the researchers plan to investigate additional cellular changes and the longer-term effects of exposure to alcohol on the brain.


Recently, Medical News Today ran a Spotlight feature article investigating whether there are any health benefits to be had from the moderate consumption of alcohol.

Adolescent drinking has long-term impact on memory and learning skills







The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, examines how exposure to alcohol during adolescence can affect the growth of a brain that has yet to develop fully, leading to abnormalities that can influence behavior in adulthood.


"In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult, but the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid-20s," says lead author Mary-Louise Risher, a postdoctoral researcher in the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

While adolescence is a crucial period in terms of cognitive, emotional and social maturation, it also happens to be a time when alcohol consumption frequently begins and continues at high levels.

"It's important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions," Risher states.


Although it is widely acknowledged that adolescents respond differently to adults concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on learning and motor functioning, the study authors state that the long-term consequences of repeated alcohol exposure in adolescence have yet to be thoroughly examined.

For the study, the researchers periodically exposed young rats to levels of alcohol during their adolescence that would lead to impairment but not sedation in humans for a period of 16 days. Following this, the rats received no further alcohol, allowing them to mature into adulthood over 24-29 days.

Previously, the researchers had demonstrated animals exposed to alcohol during adolescence would grow up to be less adept at memory tasks than animals that were not exposed to alcohol. However, they did not know how the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and learning, was affected.
Hyperactive LTP and seemingly immature dendritic spines

In the new study, the researchers measured a cellular mechanism known as long-term potentiation (LTP) in the hippocampus. LTP is the mechanism by which the brain synapses strengthen as they are repeatedly used to learn new things or recollect memories.

Vigorous synaptic activity is best for efficient learning and, as a result, LTP is typically highest in younger people who have to acquire large amounts of new memory when approaching adulthood.

The researchers predicted they would find lower levels of LTP in the adult rats who had been exposed to alcohol during adolescence. However, what they found was the complete opposite.


Senior author Scott Swartzwelder, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke and Senior Research Career Scientist at the Durham VA Medical Center, explains the finding:

"At first blush, you would think the animals would be smarter. But that's the opposite of what we found. And it actually does make sense, because if you produce too much LTP in one of these circuits, there is a period of time where you can't produce any more."

Consequently, an animal producing too much LTP will eventually stop learning. "For learning to be efficient, your brain needs a delicate balance of excitation and inhibition - too much in either direction and the circuits do not work optimally," states Prof. Swartzwelder.

A structural change in the nerve cells of the hippocampus was observed alongside the hyperactive LTP. The dendritic spines, vital for cell-to-cell communication, appeared lanky and spindly, as though they were immature. Mature spines are shorter and look similar to mushrooms.

"Something happens during adolescent alcohol exposure that changes the way the hippocampus and other regions of the brain function and how the cells actually look - both the LTP and the dendritic spines have an immature appearance in adulthood," reports Prof. Swartzwelder.

According to Risher, the immature quality of these brain cells could be associated with behavioral immaturity. "It's quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on," she adds. "That's something we are eager to explore in ongoing studies."


In addition to this, the researchers plan to investigate additional cellular changes and the longer-term effects of exposure to alcohol on the brain.


Recently, Medical News Today ran a Spotlight feature article investigating whether there are any health benefits to be had from the moderate consumption of alcohol.